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The LSAT is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all 197 law schools that are members of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants. The test is administered four times a year at hundreds of locations around the world.
Many law schools require that the LSAT be taken by December for admission the following fall. However, taking the test earlier—in June or October—is often advised. Go to www.lsat.org (or www.lsac.org ) for more information on how to register, how to prepare for the test, how to choose a law school, and how to manage the entire application process. You can also download a free sample test, and order former tests and preparation books. The site is very comprehensive.
The test currently has six 35-minute sections. Five are multiple choice sections, one of which is unscored (see below); one section is a writing sample. Several different test forms are used for each exam, each presenting the multiple choice sections in a different order; this is intended to make cheating more difficult.
Logical Reasoning: The test contains two logical reasoning sections, commonly known as “arguments” or “LR”. Each question begins with a paragraph which presents either an argument or a short set of facts. The paragraph is followed by a prompt asking the examinee to find the argument’s assumption, an alternate conclusion, logical omissions or errors in the argument, to choose another argument with parallel reasoning, or to identify a statement that would either weaken or strengthen the argument. Most paragraphs are followed by only one prompt, although a few are followed by two.
In its official LSAT Superprep, the LSAC scores questions on a difficulty scale from 1-5. Most logical reasoning sections contain 2 or 3 level-5 questions. Questions in the section are generally arranged in order of difficulty, with some exceptions. The first 10 often contain one or no question above difficulty level 3.
Reading Comprehension: The test contains one reading comprehension (“RC”) section. Through the February 2007 administration of the exam, the RC section consists of four passages of 400-500 words, one passage each related to law, arts and humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences, with 5-8 questions per passage. The questions ask the examinee to determine the author’s main idea, find information in the passage, draw inferences from the text, and describe the structure of the passage. Starting in the 2004-05 testing year, the reading comprehension section increased in difficulty, with the average passage length and question set length increasing slightly.
LSAC has stated that, starting with the June 2007 administration, it intends to replace one of the four passages with a new passage type called “comparative reading”. Comparative reading presents the examinee with two short passages with differing perspectives on a topic. The passages combined will be approximately the same length as the removed passage. Comparative reading has a parallel on the SAT, which contains a set of paired passages in its critical reading sections, and on the ACT, which does the same in its science section.
Analytical Reasoning: The test has one analytical reasoning section, informally known as the “logic games” section. The material generally involves grouping, matching, and ordering of elements. The examinee is presented with a setup (“there are five people who might attend this afternoon’s meeting”) and partial set of rules that govern the situation (e.g. “if Amy is present, then Bob is not present; if Cathy is present, then Dan is present…”), and is then asked to deduce conclusions from the statements (e.g. “What is the maximum number of people who could be present?”). Individual questions often add rules and occasionally modify existing rules, requiring the examinee to reorganize information quickly.
Starting in the 2004-05 testing year, in parallel with the changes to the reading comprehension section, analytical reasoning decreased slightly in difficulty.
Unscored section: Each exam includes one experimental section, used to test new questions for future exams. The performance of the examinee on this section is not reported as part of the final score. The examinee is not told which section of the exam is experimental, since to do so could skew the data. To reduce the impact of examinee fatigue on the experimental results, this section is always one of the first three sections of any given test. Because multiple versions of the exam are issued, alert examinees who have two different versions of the test can identify the experimental section by noting which sections they had in common.
There is a controversy about the fairness of this section. The student does not know which section is ungraded. Examinees can determine which type of section was unscored as soon as they run into an extra section of a given question type. For example, if the student has already done two arguments sections and runs into a third one, then one of those three was the experimental section. Some examinations will include three arguments sections; others will have two games or reading sections. Because the section order is unpredictable, sections of the same type can occur consecutively. Depending on ordering and where a given examinee’s weaknesses lie, an examinee could underperform (or overperform) on one specific testing. No formal examination of the impact of the experimental section has ever been done, and examinee scores tend to steadily rise with practice regardless. Critics of the experimental section charge that it also amounts to unpaid research being done on LSAC’s behalf by examinees who are already paying for the testing.
Writing sample: The writing sample is always the final section of the test. The examinee is given one of two types of prompt: a decision prompt or an argument prompt (as of the June 11, 2007 administration of the test, all examinees will be given a decision prompt). The decision prompt provides the examinee with a problem and two criteria for making a decision. The examinee must then write an essay favoring one of two provided options over the other. The decision generally does not involve a controversial subject, but rather something mundane about which the examinee likely has no strong bias. For the argument prompt, the examinee is given an argument similar to a logical reasoning prompt and then asked to critique that argument. The decision prompt has been used continually since the addition of the writing sample, while the argument prompt was added in June 2005. In June 2007, however, LSAC will retire the argument prompt.
LSAC does not score the writing sample; instead, the essay is photocopied and sent to admission offices along with the LSAT score. The writing sample is essentially an extemporaneous essay, hand-written in pencil at the conclusion of a four-hour examination. Between the quality of the handwriting and that of the photocopy, some admissions officers regard the readability and usefulness of the writing sample as marginal. Additionally, schools require that applicants submit a “personal statement” of some kind. These factors sometimes result in admission boards ignoring the writing sample. However, only 6.8% of 157 schools surveyed by LSAC in 2006 indicated that they “never” use the writing sample when evaluating an application. In contrast, 9.9% of the schools reported that they “always” use the sample; 25.3% reported that they “frequently” use the sample; 32.7% responded “occasionally”; and 25.3% reported “seldom” using the sample.